This article is part of our Ask an Expert series.
Statistics through 4/19/09
On April 9, Porcello and Romero made their major league debuts against each other in Toronto. They are both former first-round picks - Porcello out of a New Jersey high school in 2007 (27th overall), and Romero the sixth pick in 2005 out of Cal State Fullerton. Each has good stuff and a bright future.
At the age of 20, the right-handed Porcello's (6-5, 200, Born 12/27/1988) inclusion on the Tigers' Opening Day roster raised some eyebrows. He has as little professional experience as any pitcher in recent memory. Jeremy Bonderman had 156 innings and was 20 when he broke camp with the Tigers in 2003.
John Sickels wrote an excellent piece on Porcello just two weeks ago. I won't repeat the history and observations he made, but will relate what I saw in his first two major league starts (1-1, 3.75).
Rick Porcello: (G/F 1.64)
Fastball 70 70
Curveball 60 25
Changeup 50 5
Porcello deals two-seam sinking fastballs from 89-94 mph from a three-quarters slot. Against the Blue Jays, he ranged from 89-92, but in Seattle on April 19, his stuff looked crisper as he sat on 92-94 mph.
Porcello's sinker bores in on right-handers' hands. They commit to it as it moves in and beat ground balls toward the dugout. Porcello can bring his fastball back over the inside corner to left-handers and gains swings and misses on diving his sinker out of the strike zone. Roy Halladay does similar tricks with his cutter. With many hitters these days standing on top of the plate and swinging for the fences, Porcello's fastball approach is both timely and effective. He will frustrate many right-handed home run hitters who do not want to back off the plate and try to take him back up the middle.
Porcello has the moxie to stick to his game plan when he gets roughed up. In Toronto, Aaron Hill homered off an inside fastball, but Porcello struck out Alex Rios and Vernon Wells to end the inning. In Seattle on April 19, he gave up a home run to Ronny Cedeno on a curveball leading off the third, but then recorded two groundouts and a strikeout.
The main question with Porcello will be his command of his secondary pitches. His 71-77 mph curveball is above-average, but his command of it spotty. He throws a decent 80-84 mph changeup, but often bounces it. He did throw two quality changeups to retire Ichiro on April 19, and struck out the next batter (Endy Chavez) with one. Few starting pitchers can thrive on just two pitches, so Porcello will need to refine his command to reach his potential.
Can Porcello learn at the major league level in 2009? On the basis of his first start, I would have said no, but I'm more optimistic now. While the Mariners aren't disciplined enough to really test him, it's impressive for a 20-year-old to hold an American League lineup to one run in seven innings.
Porcello reminds me of Tim Hudson. They have the same drop-and-drive motion, late movement on their pitches, and mental toughness. The Tigers need to encourage Porcello to continue pitching to contact to save his arm. The strikeouts will come with age as he masters his breaking stuff. My guess is that Porcello will throw 140 innings in the majors and 25 in the minors this year.
The left-handed Ricky Romero (6-0, 210, Born 11/6/1984) made slow progress in his three full seasons in the minors from 2006-2008. He missed a month in 2006 with elbow stiffness, and half of 2007 with shoulder soreness, but did not require surgery. Romero entered 2008 with a 5-13, 4.98 record in 30 Double-A starts, but did not improve (5-5, 4.96 ERA) in 21 more Double-A starts. Promoted to Triple-A, he pitched better, going 3-3, 3.38 in seven starts.
Romero won a rotation spot out of camp by posting a 3.91 ERA in 23 innings, fourth on the staff. He capitalized on the injuries in the Blue Jay rotation: Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and now Jesse Litsch. After a good debut, he limited the Twins to two runs in eight innings on April 14, then shut out Oakland through seven on April 19 to stand at 2-0, 1.71.
Ricky Romero: (G/F 1.19)
Fastball 65 50
Curveball 55 10
Slider 55 15
Changeup 65 25
Romero has well above-average stuff for a left-hander. His fastball runs from 89-93 mph, and he has a high-80s cutter. He keeps his fastball low and has enough juice to come inside to right-handers. Romero will try to zing the outside corner against left-handers with his fastball, and has a 79-82 mph slider that he uses against them. His 71-78 mph curveball has the reputation of being the better of his breaking balls, but he is using his slider a lot more so far.
Romero has stepped forward by improving his fastball command, using his slider effectively, and trusting his 80-82 mph changeup. He is using his change as his out pitch against right-handers, and is probably leaning on it too much. Romero looks like Mike Hampton when he releases his change, as he rocks backwards before dipping it low and away from a right-hander. Romero does have a slightly different arm slot for his fastball, change and breaking balls, so he will need to work on that.
Besides refining his command of his breaking balls and not tipping his pitches, Romero needs to keep his delivery moving straight toward the plate and not across his body. He has great arm speed, but his needs to keep his delivery integrated and not to rely on arm strength. Romero also needs to prove he can continue throwing strikes. I wonder why he hasn't used his curveball more, but perhaps he is going with his power stuff. In any case, who can argue with the results?
Romero looks to have some Andy Pettitte or Mike Hampton years ahead of him. He is athletic, works quickly, and doesn't seem to rattle easily. He has a world of opportunity ahead of him in Toronto. Given that Romero is older and has a deeper repertoire than Porcello, he is a more likely Rookie of the Year candidate.
Radar Love - April fastballs:
95-97: Jesse Chavez against the Braves on April 18.
92-96: Ronald Belisario against the Rockies on April 18.
90-95: Chad Billingsley against the Rockies on April 18.
91-94: Jon Lester against the Orioles on April 19.
92-93: Javier Vazquez in Pittsburgh on April 19.
91-93: Ian Snell against the Braves on April 18.
90-94: Matt Garza against the White Sox on April 19.
90-94: Zack Greinke in shutting out the Rangers on April 18.
90-94: Fausto Carmona in New York on April 18.
90-92: Gavin Floyd in Tampa Bay on April 19.
89-92: Aaron Cook in Los Angeles on April 18.
88-92: Chien-Ming Wang against the Indians on April 18.
88-91: Jo-Jo Reyes in Pittsburgh on April 18.
86-89: Koji Uehara in Boston on April 19.
82-88: Zach Duke against the Braves on April 19.
Next week: NL Central: Paul Maholm
Article first appeared 4/20/09